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January 3, 2010

Afghanistan: Sue, Lew and You

Dr. Peter Eglin

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Shortly before and after 7PM (ET) on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 CBC TV News broke the news of the announcement by Brigadier-General Daniel Menard in Afghanistan that "five Canadian citizens" had been killed at 4PM on Wednesday (Kandahar time) by an IED.

Peter EglinShortly before and after 7PM (ET) on Wednesday, December 30, 2009 CBC TV News broke the news of the announcement by Brigadier-General Daniel Menard in Afghanistan that “five Canadian citizens” had been killed at 4PM on Wednesday (Kandahar time) by an IED.

The five included four soldiers and one (embedded) journalist, identified as Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald. Ms Lang was reported to have been on her first “rotation” to Afghanistan, and had been there for a few weeks at the time of her death.

It was CBC reporter Susan Ormiston who used the word “rotation” in reference to the journalist’s presence in Afghanistan, though the term’s current, common use as a “tour of duty” is primarily a military one. She then interviewed retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie for comment.

In the course of the interview MacKenzie described as “wonderful work” what (embedded) journalists were doing “to tell the story of what Canada’s soldiers are doing in Afghanistan” (Brig. Gen. Menard’s words). Ormiston signed off by saying “thanks, Lew” and MacKenzie replied calling her “Sue.”

In her own provision of context for the killings Ormiston said that “we” had adopted the village of Deh-e-Bagh in the Dand district in or near Kandahar (where the explosion occurred) as part of the military effort to counter the insurgency through constant patrols and development work.

Ormiston had herself reported from Afghanistan for a time, and had presumably stayed at the same “KAF” (Kandahar Air Field) base that had been housing Ms Lang. She had almost certainly talked to MacKenzie on and off the record more than once as a reporter.

The loss of four Canadian soldiers in one incident was, as MacKenzie said, the “third worst” such case in the eight years of Canadian participation in the war. Moreover, the death of a young, award-winning, fellow (female) journalist, fresh to the war, was surely heart-breaking to report.

Do these facts explain, do they excuse, the failure of journalistic objectivity in Ormiston’s reporting? Is there a “we” and a “them” in her professional vision of the war? Is she one with the “troops”? Does she line up with their unabashed “supporter” and apologist for the campaign itself, Major General Lewis MacKenzie (ret.)?

In contemplating your own response to these questions consider the fact reported (though not by CBC TV News on the 30th) in a brief article in the same day’s Globe and Mail with the by-line Kandahar, Afghanistan (“War’s toll heavy on Afghan civilians,” Dec. 30, A14): “New figures suggest Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the war against the Taliban.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says 2,038 civilians were killed in the first 10 months of this year, an increase of almost 11 per cent over 2008. Most of the deaths were due to insurgents. However, about 20 per cent of the casualties were due to international coalition forces.”

All of these deaths are the responsibility of the war-making, foreign invaders, whether they did the killing themselves or not.

Who is mourning these deaths today? Is Sue, is Lew, are you?

Dr. Peter Eglin is Professor of Sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada.

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